But at that time, I was also planning the trip of a lifetime in Ireland. I think I can really use the word 'lifetime' here because I would leave France two months later and never go back. Well... I do eventually go back to visit my family (and gorge on delicious French food). And Ireland became my home! E. and I did spend three of the past nine years in Australia. To be fair, the purpose of this trip was to spend some time with his lovely Irish family members who live there.
But then , there was the return to beautiful Ireland because this is home!
Over the past (nearly) nine years, I really settled in the culture and food world of this country and made many lovely Irish friends. I also settled so well in only speaking English that I lost a bit of my French (vocabulary, grammar, intonation)... Whenever I go back to France for a holiday and go shopping I hear "oh! Vous avez un joli accent anglais! Vous venez d'où?" (oh, what a lovely English accent! Where are you from?), or my own family members make fun of my forgotten French grammar and this is how I walk away practically each time. And since only half of the culinary vocabulary I know I learned in English, I find myself a bit lost in translation as you say.
However, one thing that I am never lost with wherever I go is food. Or I should even say ingredients. I dig for my beloved memories of French dishes and adapt them with the local products. And since Ireland is now my home, and has been for years, I decided to make a favourite of mine with some really lovely Irish ingredients.
May I introduce you to the Irish croque-monsieur!
For this recipe, I walked around Dublin and visited some lovely Irish food shops in order to find what I was after to reproduce my beloved croque-monsieur.
For the bread, I found a wonderful white farmhouse loaf. It had the exact texture I wanted and I struggled a lot not to eat it all toasted with butter and jam.
I was also lucky to have a delicious Irish baked ham sliced for me. I thought it was the perfect meat for the recipe, so much better than the plastic-like slices of ham found in supermarkets. And this recipe might come in handy next Christmas with your baked ham leftovers. I am salivating just thinking about it...
Now, the cheese part was where I knew I had to get it right. In France, I like making this recipe with Comté and gruyère cheeses as they really compliment each other and melt into a lovely creamy texture when cooked (they are also used together with Beaufort cheese in the famous recipe of cheese fondue). I decided to pay a visit to my favourite cheese shop in Dublin: Sheridans Cheesemongers. I had a clear idea of what I wanted to use to replace the Comté part: a delicious piece of Coolea cheese. This is so far the Irish cheese that reminds me the most of it. It has the same feel, the same sweet and rich caramelly flavour.
For the gruyère-like part, I asked one of the shop assistants for some help. She immediately pointed me to the wonderful Glebe Brethan cheese. I tasted Coolea and the latter consecutively and the combination was excellent, just what I had been looking for! Glebe Brethan had the exact texture of a great gryuère cheese with fruity and nutty notes.
If you are not near any of these cheeses, try to aim for similar textures and flavours. Even get a little taste to see if it works for you.
When I made the recipe using all the lovely Irish ingredients, it created an incredible result. It reminded me of my French roots but at the same time it was all definitely Irish, and that represents a lot of who I am now (not Irish but feeling where I belong). And the smell of the gorgeous melted cheeses, do not get me started on that...
Ingredients (makes 4)
8 slices of bread*
4 slices Irish baked ham
100g grated Coolea cheese***
100g grated Glebe Brethan****
150g Irish cream
1. Preheat the oven to 220ºC.
Place four slices of bread on a baking tray. Butter them lightly (this is optional, the recipe is as delicious without butter) and put a slice of ham on top of each. Close the sandwiches with the remaining slices of bread.
2. Put the grated cheeses and cream in a small salad bowl and stir well. Season to your taste with pepper. Divide in four and spread each portion on top of the sandwiches.
Place the tray on the top shelf of the oven and cook for 12 to 14 minutes, until the topping is golden brown.
I usually eat a croque-monsieur on its own but for a light dinner, it is also lovely accompanied with a small portion of seasonal vegetables or a little salad.
* I opted for a delicious loaf of Irish white farmhouse bread. Try to aim for a soft type of bread.
** I chose a lovely salted Irish creamery butter. I took it out of the fridge an hour before use to make it easier to spread on the soft slices of bread.
*** This type of cheese is similar to Comté or Gouda, it has a sweet and caramelly flavour.
**** Glebe Brethan is a gruyere-type cheese: fruity and creamy, and added nutty flavours as it ages.
Wherever you are in the world, I understand it might not be easy to put your hands on all the exact Irish ingredients but you could try and make your own by choosing local ingredients. For the cheeses, aim for two kinds that can be grated, compliment each other well and will melt easily when cooked.